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Wang's return cause for satisfaction, celebration

June 28, 2011|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — Chien-Ming Wang had a pretty big day on Monday.

For his fans, it was a national holiday.

Wang pitched competitively for the first time in nearly two years when he worked three innings for the Hagerstown Suns in their 5-2 win over Lakewood. For the former New York Yankees ace, it was time to celebrate.

“I am very happy because it has been a long time,” Wang said through his translator. “Since this was my first rehabilitation assignment, I was excited but I kind of wanted to show I could still do it.”

As big as the outing was for Wang, it was all that and more to Asian media.

A large contingent of foreign media were on hand to see the Chinese Taipei native pitch and enthusiastically covered his every move. Reporters and cameramen rushed to the Suns’ clubhouse area to position for interviews after Wang finished his three-inning stint.

They waited patiently in the media area as Wang completed a postgame workout, got iced and showered. In fact, he didn’t meet the press until after the Suns completed their third victory in the first five games of the second half.

Wang sat in front the large throng and fielded questions from the English-speaking press before doing a second interview in Chinese.

After the second-half of the press conference, the Asian media followed Wang out to the Suns bullpen as he made his way to the clubhouse. He was stopped for an autograph as the media filmed and took photos of his every move until he got inside the clubhouse.

A number of Asian fans were in the crowd of 1,395 at Municipal Stadium, many coming from the Washington area for a chance to seem him pitch. They told one reporter that they were glad to see him pitching again and will go to see him no matter where he works.

For the English press, some of the depth of answers — like what is next step in his return — got lost in translation as many questions were met with short answers.

“The team has a set schedule for me,” he said. “My arm feels good.”

Wang showed surprisingly good command for a pitcher who missed nearly two years because of shoulder problems. His last start was July 4, 2009 for the Yankees after opening the season 0-3 with a 34.50 ERA. He eventually had season-ending shoulder surgery.

Wang signed with the Nationals in 2010 but had not pitched at any level for the organization until his Monday rehab start in Hagerstown. He became the third Nationals player to rehab at Hagerstown after third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and reliever Chad Gaudin.

And the start was a huge success.

Wang allowed two runs on four hits in his three innings while striking out three. The right-hander started slowly, allowing a run on two hits and hitting a batter in the first inning, but made the quality pitches he needed to get out of the inning.

“For the first time up after a long time of being out, it was a solid outing,” said Suns manager Brian Daubach. “He was probably a little nervous out there at first when he hit that guy in the first. He did what was planned by going three innings.”

Hagerstown’s offense gave Wang run support to allow him to pitch with the lead. The Suns scored a tying run in the first and took a 3-1 lead in the second, started by the first of three hits by Jason Martinson.

Wang, who was 55-26 with a 4.18 ERA in five seasons with the Yankees, found his old form in the second inning and began to assert himself. He didn’t show peak velocity, but his pitches began biting with a late break that had Lakewood batters swinging defensively.

It was a good show with good signs for the Washington coaches and scouting personnel to witness.

“I still need more innings and more experience,” Wang said.

Wang looked like he began to tire in the third inning, but still had movement on his pitches. Zach Collier tripled and Domingo Sanchez doubled him in for Lakewood’s second run, but both hits were along the baselines.

“I’m not sure of what his velocity, but his pitches had good sink,” Daubach said. “Once he slowed down, his pitches had sink like the guy I remembered.”

It ended up being a good night for all involved. The Suns won. A pitcher made a comeback. And a hero reappeared for his adoring fans.

One thing Wang wanted to make everyone know for sure, it was a first step in his return and the performance wasn’t as simple as it looked.

“It’s not that easy,” Wang said. “It has been a long time since I pitched three innings. The longest I had been out there was only for two.”

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